U.S. Marines push ahead with air, ground assaults against Fallujah
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – U.S. jets struck targets in the insurgent bastion Fallujah on Friday, and U.S. officials said 10 people – including a family of four – were killed when a car bomb exploded near a Baghdad police station in a bloody start to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
American and Iraqi officials fear a repeat of the surge in attacks that ushered in Ramadan last year. Iraqi Sunni Muslims and many Shiites began Ramadan on Friday; other Iraqi Shiites start fasting Saturday.
U.S. jets and artillery pounded targets in the southern and eastern part of Fallujah – the major stronghold of Sunni insurgents – around sundown Friday as residents were taking the traditional meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan.
One resident, Salah Abd, said American troops had sealed off major roads out of the city, 40 miles west of Baghdad, preventing residents from leaving.
There were no reports of casualties from the evening raids. Dr. Rafia Hiyad of the Fallujah General Hospital said three people were killed and seven others injured during attacks the previous night.
In southwest Baghdad, a car packed with 300 pounds of explosives blew up Friday near a police station. The U.S. military said 10 civilians were killed, including a family of four who were driving by at the time of the blast. Iraqi hospital officials said 14 people were wounded.
“This is an act of terrorists,” said Lt. Col. James Hutton, a spokesman for the 1st Cavalry Division. “These attacks kill innocent Iraqi people trying to live their lives in peace.”
U.S. officials indicated the bombing of Fallujah was not a prelude to a major offensive into the city that officials have said they might launch sometime this fall.
The attacks began Thursday after peace talks between the Iraqi officials and city leaders broke down over the government’s demand that they hand over terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed responsible for suicide bombings and beheading foreign hostages.
U.S. troops detained Fallujah’s top negotiator in the talks, witnesses said. Khaled al-Jumeili, an Islamic cleric, was arrested as he left a mosque after Friday prayers in a village about 10 miles south of Fallujah, they said. There was no confirmation from U.S. authorities.
Fallujah fell under control of radical clerics and their armed mujahedeen fighters after the Marines lifted their three-week siege of the city in April.
In a statement read Friday in Sunni mosques in Baghdad and elsewhere, Fallujah clerics threatened a civil disobedience campaign across the country if the Americans try to overrun the city.
The clerics said if civil disobedience were not enough to stop a U.S. assault, they would proclaim a jihad, or holy war, against all U.S. and multinational forces “as well as those collaborating with them.”
They insisted that the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi was not in Fallujah, claiming his alleged presence “is a lie just like the weapons of mass destruction lie.”
“Al-Zarqawi has become the pretext for flattening civilians houses and killing innocent civilians,” the statement said.
Al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group claimed responsibility for Thursday’s twin bombings inside Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone – home to U.S. officials and the Iraqi leadership – which killed six people, including three American civilians, and wounded 27 others, mostly Iraqis. A fourth American was missing and presumed dead.
Two Iraqis were killed, at least one of them a suicide bomber. The identity of the other wasn’t known. The group’s claim, which could not be verified, was posted on a Web site known for its Islamic contents.
One of those injured, British contractor Michael Fitzpatrick, said he was sitting in the Green Zone Cafe drinking coffee when “there was this incredible explosion and I was somersaulting in the air.”
“I’m burnt all over. I was in the middle of a giant fireball and I’m alive,” he said from his hospital bed. “I’m so happy to be alive. I just want to go home and go fishing.”
The U.S. command, meanwhile, confirmed that Army investigators were looking into reports that several members of a reservist supply unit refused to go on a convoy mission.
According to The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., a platoon of 17 soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, based in Rock Hill, S.C., refused to go on a fuel supply mission Wednesday to a base in Taji north of Baghdad because their vehicles were in poor shape and they did not have a capable armed escort. Attacks on supply convoys are common, especially in areas north and west of Baghdad.
Elsewhere, several mortar rounds believed fired from Syria exploded Friday near the border town of Husaybah, said Marine Lt. Col. Chris Woodbridge. There were no casualties. Marines say mortar attacks from Syrian territory have increased in recent weeks though it’s unclear who is launching them.
Associated Press correspondents Fisnik Abrashi in Qaim and Rawya Rageh and Edward Harris in Baghdad contributed to this report.